Operations Pugilist and Supercharge II
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseWith Erwin Rommel recalled to Europe, Italian General Giovanni Messe assumed command of Axis forces in North Africa, which by this time had been pushed into Tunisia from both east and west; German Major General Fritz Bayerlein served under Messe as the German liaison. On 19 Mar 1943, British General Bernard Montgomery launched Operation Pugilist, attacking the Axis Mareth Line defenses and penetrating near Zarat. On 21 Mar, Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg's New Zealand Corps troops bypassed the line by passing through Wilder's Gap undetected, attacking Axis positions in the Tebaga Gap; surprise was initially achieved, but German 164th Light Division and German 21st Panzer Division pinned down the New Zealand attack. On 22 Mar, German 15th Panzer Division counterattacked near Zarat, recapturing the territory lost in the opening of Operation Pugilist; the Allied troops fell back in the face of German tank fire as the terrain prevented Allied tanks from playing a significant role. During the day on 23 Mar, Montgomery sent the British 1st Armoured Division from the reserve to reinforce the New Zealand troops at the Tebaga Gap. During the night of 23 Mar, Indian 4th Infantry Division attacked the western end of the Mareth Line.
ww2dbaseOn 26 Mar, Montgomery launched a renewed offensive, codenamed Operation Supercharge II. At 1530 hours, aircraft dropped bombs on German positions at the Tebaga Gap in front of the New Zealand troops' positions. At 1600 hours, as the aircraft departed, Allied artillery commenced a brief barrage, and then the New Zealand troops charged in on a two-brigade front. The German troops were taken by surprise, and the Allies were able to open a gap in the defenses. At 2300 hours, as the moon rose to provide some light, tanks of the British 1st Armoured Division charged through the gap toward El Hamma 20 miles to the northeast. To defend against this attack, tanks of the German 15th Panzer Division was ordered out of the reserve, counterattacking by dawn of 27 Mar, halting the tank attack just before El Hamma by 0900 hours; meanwhile, the New Zealand troops were able to capture high grounds near the Tebaga Gap, securing the area rear of the British tanks. By 28 Mar, Axis defenses had shifted out of the Mareth Line to form a new defensive line before the forces engaged in Operation Supercharge II. On 29 Mar, New Zealand troops captured GabĂ¨s, forcing the Axis to form a new line 15 miles to the north at Wadi Akarit while German 164th Light Division, German 15th Panzer Division, and German 21st Panzer Division fought a delay action campaign against the advancing Allies; on the same day, Axis forces at El Hamma were withdrawn. Operation Supercharge II was concluded with success on 31 Mar.
Last Major Update: Mar 2011
Operations Pugilist and Supercharge II Timeline
|19 Mar 1943||The British launched Operation Pugilist in Tunisia against the Axis Mareth Line, penetrating the line near Zarat.|
|20 Mar 1943||The British Eighth Army broke through German Mareth Line in Tunisia.|
|21 Mar 1943||New Zealand troops under Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg bypassed the Mareth Line defenses in Tunisia by moving his forces through Wilder's Gap to the west. They engaged surprised German defenses at the Tebaga Gap.|
|22 Mar 1943||German 15th Panzer Division neared Zarat, Tunisia, recapturing territory lost at the opening of the British Operation Pugilist.|
|23 Mar 1943||Bernard Montgomery released British 1st Armoured Division from reserve to reinforce the New Zealand troops' offensive near Zarat, Tunisia. Indian 4th Division attacked the western end of the Mareth Line in coordination.|
|25 Mar 1943||Indian 4th Division overran the Mareth Line in Tunisia.|
|26 Mar 1943||In the afternoon, British launched Operation Supercharge II to exploit Axis defenses in Tunisia near the Tebaga Gap. At 2300 hours, as the moon rose to provide some light, British tanks pushed through the gap and approached on El Hamma to the north. Tanks of the German 15th Panzer Division were released from reserve to counter the offensive. Axis troops began retreating from the Mareth Line in Tunisia toward Wadi Akarit.|
|27 Mar 1943||German tanks stopped the British offensive at El Hamma, Tunisia, but New Zealand troops had successfully secured territory south of the town.|
|28 Mar 1943||Most Axis troops were evacuated from the Mareth Line in Tunisia to form a new line to the north.|
|29 Mar 1943||New Zealand troops captured GabĂ¨s, Tunisia while Axis troops were evacuated out of El Hamma.|
|30 Mar 1943||British General Montgomery's troops breached the Mareth Line in North Africa.|
|31 Mar 1943||British troops occupied Cap Serrat on the Tunisian coast. Operation Supercharge II was concluded with success in Tunisia, forcing the Axis defenses to move north to Wadi Akarit.|
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